Miracle baby born at 24 weeks returns home to the Western Isles

Making an appearance into the world on Father's Day at 24 weeks, and weighing just 580g (1.28lbs), tiny Hafsa was so small she could fit into her mother's hand.

Baby Hafsa was born at only 24 weeks.
Baby Hafsa was born at only 24 weeks.

The miracle baby, born dangerously premature in the Princess Royal Maternity Hospital in Glasgow on June 19, is now home in Stornoway and fighting fit after 19 weeks in hospital.

Proud parents, Zerqua and Mansha Mohammed Shahid, are delighted to have their beautiful daughter home with them, and have paid tribute to the wonderful NHS staff who looked after them, both in Stornoway and Glasgow.

At 24 weeks, Zerqua was less than two-thirds of the way through what would be classed as a normal pregnancy when she went into labour.

Having experienced a great deal of heartache during previous pregnancies over a number of years, Zerqua and Mansha had kept the latest pregnancy very quiet, only sharing the news with close friends and family.

Zerqua first became aware that Hafsa’s arrival could be imminent when her membranes broke on June 9.

She attended the Maternity Department at Western Isles Hospital in Stornoway, and was flown away by air ambulance that day to the Princess Royal Maternity Hospital, accompanied by Head of Midwifery, Catherine Macdonald.

“At that point I hadn’t started labour or anything like that,” said Zerqua. “But I was quite freaked out. I was taken to a ward in the Princess Royal and Catherine was with me. I thought I would be there until I was around 34 weeks pregnant, but a few days later, I gave birth. The labour was on and off all the time. I experienced light pains and got medication for that.”

Hafsa was born at 3.52pm on June 19 and, as her mum describes, was ‘around the size of my hand’ with translucent skin.

Zerqua didn’t get to see Hafsa until later that evening, as both mum and baby were unwell after the birth. Zerqua and Hafsa were kept in different intensive care units, but mum and baby were linked up by web cam so that they could always see each other.

From the outset, Hafsa did exceptionally well, battling with all the usual aspects of extreme prematurity, particularly with maturation of her lungs. She has been extubated and intubated again on numerous occasions depending on her oxygen levels.

Maintaining temperature is also a huge issue for babies born so prematurely, as they are so small and have little to no body fat to keep them warm, so incubator care and knitted hats, socks and blankets were crucial in the first few months for Hafsa, until she started to gain weight.

Bruising caused by IV lines is inevitable in such delicate veins but Hafsa has recovered from all of this.

When Zerqua was well enough, she was able to touch and massage her daughter in the incubator, but it was a number of weeks before Hafsa was well enough to be held.

Zerqua provided breast milk for Hafsa from the outset which has been hugely beneficial to her gut development over the months. She is now fully breast fed and will continue to reap the benefits of mum’s milk.

It took 134 days of specialist care in Glasgow before Hafsa (which aptly – for such a courageous baby that has fought for her survival - means ‘humble baby lioness’) was strong enough to come back home to Stornoway. Zerqua spent all day, every day, by her daughter’s side, providing the love and support she needed to gain strength.

“The staff were absolutely amazing,” said Zerqua. “They just all made you feel so welcome and stress free. It was clearly a difficult time, but you just got on with it. Gillian Sinclair was the first nurse to give Hafsa a loving touch, and I’d also like to thank Consultant Neonatologists, Dr Kerry Kasem and Dr Helen McTear, for their great work.”

“Hafsa has grown really well and has had to learn everything – like how to breathe, suck and swallow. That was down to massage and speech and language therapy techniques.”

Zerqua described the 19 weeks in hospital as having ‘gone by in a flash’, but ‘somehow unreal, like a dream’.

“Hafsa was my adrenaline,” she explained. “I have no family in Glasgow, so that was difficult, but the staff in the neonatal intensive care unit were amazing and provided so much support. I also made friends with other mums who had premature babies in the same ward, which was a great support.”

Hafsa was able to come home on October 31, just weeks after her due date (which had been October 5). One of the first visits mum and baby made was to the Western Isles Hospital Maternity Unit, where staff were delighted to see the progress that Hafsa had made.

“I was looked after really well by the staff in Stornoway,” said Zerqua. “I had weekly checks during my pregnancy and they told me that if there was anything wrong at all, I should come straight to hospital. I’d like to thank them for the support they have given me.”

Head of Midwifery, Catherine Macdonald, commented: “Hafsa has done exceptionally well. Mum and dad’s love, touch and care is as important as any medicine which helped little Hafsa to fight and pull through any of the difficulties she endured, along with the expert care of the staff looking after her.”

Zerqua is now raising money for a very special cause – reclining chairs for mothers to be able to have ‘skin to skin’ time with premature babies at the Princess Royal Maternity Hospital (there is a shortage of these chairs).

People can give through the Just Giving site: here or you can text a £10 donation directly to the Princess Royal Maternity Hospital Baby Fund by texting ‘BABY33 Chairs’ to 70070.